O Antiphons

The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is based on a series of Antiphons (a short sentence sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle) that were appointed for the last days of Advent. Each of these “O Antiphons” describes the coming Savior using imagery from the Old Testament prophecies which foretold of Jesus’ coming. Here they are in order:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)Tree of Jesse, O Antiphons

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)

O Lord, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)

O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

December 21: O Oriens (O Morning Star)

O Morning Star, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

December 23: O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel)

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God.

These are powerful words for a powerful time of year.

Notice how December 21st, often the darkest day of the year, is when we pray for the morning star to come and enlighten us. Additionally, the first letters of the titles (S.A.R.C.O.R.E.) taken backwards forms the Latin phrase ero cras, tomorrow I will come.

Perhaps this Advent season, praying these powerful words leading up to Christmas will spur us to action rooted in the wonder and awe of the Christ Child. Such prayer, combined with accompanying actions, would be a radical statement of hope and peace in a world of seeming darkness. Will you pray these together with me this December?

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Dr. Adam Lefever Hughes

Director of Music

Adam served as Director of Music at St. Peter’s from 2015 to 2022.

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